I seem to keep allowing my gender studies professors to become part-time therapists. probably not a great thing; however, in my defense, reflection is therapy and they’re asking for reflection. sometimes I feel a little proud of what I wrote, perhaps because the things I read helped me to work through some of the things troubling me. so, I figure it could be worth sharing.
androgyny as a solution
So what does androgyny have to do with transgenderism? Any person, mainstream and not particularly gender-conflicted, can opt for androgyny. Yet those of us who don’t fit that description, who may still yearn to cross over, if only to return to a balanced state, need to examine our options. Crossdressing may be a bold beginning (perhaps an end in itself), but nonetheless offers the potential for integration and wholeness. Transsexualism, while perfectly appropriate for some, may often be more of an overstated resolution-indeed, a form of escape. Trading one set of stereotypic gender restrictions for another is a denial of wholeness, unless one simply feels more centered in the gender of choice (given this culture), hence more able to strive for wholeness in that form. However, other transsexual people who may never realistically "pass" in society might find greater solace through androgyny.
[context: Holly Boswell is from Asheville, NC, she died a few years back. created the transgender symbol ⚧️. this article in particular, is notable for being one of the most notable early uses of the word "transgender", coining it, though the meaning has changed.]
I found myself disagreeing with this article’s characterization of "transgender", though I guess that’s mostly a generational thing. [in short: the characterization is that "transgender" as a concept intertwines with androgyny as a way to strike a middle ground between crossdressing and transsexualism] For me prior to transitioning, I’d never considered crossdressing, I was actually more content with being seen as a "tomboy" perhaps (or perhaps, crossdressing as a concept was just too rife with eroticization that I just didn’t even want to consider it). And with transsexualism’s medicalized description, I never really found myself in that either, in part because surgeries in general tend to scare me a bit. For me, hormones were a big deal and that was the thing I was most certain about, surgeries were too vague in terms of what they could do, they seemed too instantaneous (at the time) compared to hormones bringing out features in me that were already there, just not emphasized the same way.
I think to some extent, my disagreement of what these two poles are in relation to "transgender", with "transgender" being a sort of androgynous alternative to the two is because of my own discomfort with my own androgyny. For example, when I think about my own problems in this time in my life as a 22 year old trans woman, my problems aren’t really about gender roles or feeling restricted by them. In fact I’d say they tend to be more about my androgyny holding me back from my ideal self. Not being raised with experience in things like fashion, makeup, "typical" girl things, being passed down to me by my mom and the other girl friends I perhaps would have had, is what tends to bother me more. While that lack of experience being given to me can easily (and should) be attributed to gender roles, the point stands nonetheless that androgyny isn’t really what I’m comfortable in, it’s just what has ended up being the deck I’ve been dealt that I feel I need to work out of.
Back to the quote, that’s basically what bothers me about it. 'Other transsexuals who may never realistically "pass" in society might find greater solace through androgyny' probably sounds fine, but perhaps a chip on my shoulder is what keeps me from being content with it. I think the usage of "realistically" there is a little misplaced, and I’d say that at least coming from an opposing life experience, androgyny’s definitely not giving me solace. Just complacency.
my professor had a nice response to this. I probably shouldn’t copy them verbatim just out of respect to this being a private exchange between professor/student, but I’ll at least paraphrase.
essentially, when this is being responded to, 2021, a lot of the premises in this article (which is definitely worth reading) have changed to some degree. passing nowadays is not the major life goal of trans people, and this article really presupposes that a transsexual’s life is one which is bound up mostly in the ordeal of passing.
my professor agrees that this should be a troubling thing to read as being centered even as it’s being decentered, but these alternatives she brings up are essentially products of that era. it is useful to recognize the real problem of the cis gaze that lies at the core of passing as a trans person’s ultimate goal.
t4t relationships / recognition through the other
The result is that for most men their biggest enemy is their own inner femininity because its discovery would destroy them in the eyes of other men. It is well known that men do not develop physically close relationships with other men as women do with other women. Men do not show emotions such as hurt, grief, fear, or tenderness lest such manifestations shall be taken as a sign of weakness–read femininity. Thus men always keep other men at a physical and psychological distance just as a moat around a castle keeps the enemy out. This is done because should the invader get inside the moat he might destroy the castle’s owner. Should another man manage to penetrate a man’s psychological defenses he might, just might discover something about that man which could be interpreted as not sufficiently masculine, which is to say, somewhat feminine. That information in the hands of another man would about destroy the victim’s self esteem. You all understand what I’m talking about because you have gone to great lengths to keep your cross-dressing secret from brother, father, coach, boss, and friends lest they decide that you were indeed too feminine and not a REAL MAN. Have you ever reflected on the fact that you can hold hands, hug or give a hello or goodbye kiss to another CD if you were both dressed, whereas you would not think of doing the same thing if you were both dressed in men’s clothes? That is because you have escaped FROM those masculine expectations and requirements when you are dressed as a woman. But unknowingly you behave that way when dressed because you CAN behave that way. It’s a touch of freedom.
I think this paragraph really foreshadows some people (including myself)'s experiences on relationships between transgender people (which I’ll just call t4t from here on because I’ve always thought that’s a cute term).
Often something that comes out in t4t relationships is a sense of openness and understanding that isn’t always apparent with relationships between a trans person and a cis person, because there’s that shared background that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Of course, there’s also some opportunity for shared trauma and an inability to foil it when you are too affected by it, but overall, there’s definitely a positive aspect that arises from that shared history.
I think some people get the impression that trans people only wish to seek out relationships with cis people, but that’s certainly not the case. That perception also has a way of prioritizing cis people at the top again, so that we can seem, to them, reliant on them for those basic social and emotional needs. I feel that in my saying this, there’s tones of trans separatism here, but my point is instead to show that trans people are strong, and while our communal bonds can have their difficult points, they also have a beauty in our ability to rely one each other.
I think this is something that exists in every marginalized community really, there’s a perception to the white/cis/straight majority that there’s some need for us to rely on them for some need or another, so there’s not as much of a threat. "Well, you can’t live without us, so we can be as uncaring and ignorant to your issues as we wish."
The paragraph really does foreshadow these lines of thought though, even if it’s not the point that was trying to be made, it’s effectively the same: recognition through the other is a hugely transformative experience, and that can be translated into point of liberation not just for you and that person, not just for your community, but societal liberation as well. But it has to start with that individual, shared, and then communal strength, I think.
jokes / silence
Each joke levels us a little more, and we sit silently-- sometimes join in the laughter, as if deep down, we, too, believe we are the lowest among the low. No one will redeem your name, your love, your life, your manhood, but you. No one will save you, but you. Your silence is costing. Your silence is suicide.
This was a simply amazing film. I wish I could point back at so many different parts of this film, but it was just, amazing, and I must pick just one. The way that silence reprises throughout Tongues Untied is amazing: silence infects every part of our lives when we use it. "I cannot go home as who I am, and that hurts me deeply", silence in the way we live, silence in our presence in the world, silence in expression. It is difficult to just pick one part of this film that I felt and speak to that alone. Even though it is a film about the experiences of Black gay men, it is hard to for me to not recognize the universalities.
I find myself confronting silence often, be it through the words I choose and do not choose to describe the relationships I hold, through the people I tell and do not tell about my own feelings. Part of the way it sticks with me is the everyday sacrifices I make-- which one of my lovers do I describe as my girlfriend to this person, which relationship do I have to momentarily hide so as to avoid the inquisition? When I speak on the phone while calling up someone for a new apartment and I don’t try and put on a voice, and they ask if my other roommates, are they also guys?, what silence am I accepting there with whatever response I give?
Often I find myself thinking, "I want to go home". I think this film, this part in particular, really gives me something to point to; I can recall thinking this when I was younger, I can recall thinking it a day ago. Home as a concept has the underrated aspect of being a place of self, and a place of security in that expression of self. What one lacks in security with regard to their expression at home, one lacks in the feeling of having home. I can be myself at home, but can I be my complete self? Do I obscure things about myself for the sake of not causing arguments? (of course I do)
I know plenty of older people who would take this a more simplistic way. Even if they do not admit it, they too hide things from people in their lives. But it doesn’t feel good. Hiding one thing or another is fine, hiding things because you’re a teenager and you’re exploring the world and honing your conscience, sure. Hiding relationships from your family members feels less good. But don’t equivocate the two, one is a thing of growth and the other can just kill your ability to be real with people you care about. The point is made.
I found this film to be very enlightening and eyeopening for my own introspection and I am very grateful for it being assigned.
anxiety from wearing clothes that look fine on me
But once AIDS has settled in the community and profoundly modified the way the gay male body is viewed, it is easily understandable that what is at stake is fear. The object of this fear is stigmatization, of course, but it goes beyond that, as Feinberg’s last remark shows: "Everyone had a good ten pounds to spare, as if ten pounds could protect one from death". Fear is not triggered by other people’s eyes, but by one’s own eyes on one’s own body.
This was such an interesting moment to read in this article.
In particular, "fear is not triggered by other people’s eyes, but by one’s own eyes on one’s own body". The way that bodies are viewed by others is often the first thing that comes to mind when I think of my own anxieties in public, as a mostly out trans woman. I know, in reality, most people probably don’t give me a second glance, there’s a good chance they mind their own business and don’t care. But the fear and anxiety comes from my own eyes on my own body. It’s an anxiety that comes from the idea, "what if someone else sees what I think I’m seeing about myself?"
If one doesn’t project confidence in the way they present themselves, perhaps that insecurity could be seen by others, it becomes something to prey upon. I’d just never seen that experience of anxiety from visibility, pieced apart and redirected like that sentence did it.
role inappropriateness / alienation of body from sexuality
Among them was the determination of the permissible range of expressions of physical sexuality. This was a large gray area in the candidates' self-presentations, because Benjamin’s subjects did not talk about any erotic sense of their own bodies. Consequently nobody else who came to the clinics did either. By textual authority, physical men who lived as women and who identified themselves as transsexuals, as opposed to male transvestites for whom erotic penile sensation was permissible, could not experience penile pleasure. Into the 1980s there was not a single preoperative male-to-female transsexual for whom data was available who experienced genital sexual pleasure while living in the "gender of choice." The prohibition continued postoperatively in interestingly transmuted form, and remained so absolute that no postoperative transsexual would admit to experiencing sexual pleasure through masturbation either. Full membership in the assigned gender was conferred by orgasm, real or faked, accomplished through heterosexual penetration. "Wringing the turkey’s neck," the ritual of penile masturbation just before surgery, was the most secret of secret traditions. To acknowledge so natural a desire would be to risk "crash landing"; that is, "role inappropriateness" leading to disqualification.
I thought this section of the reading was so interesting. What was first something that just seemed like a funny (if not somewhat uncomfortable) offhand remark mentioned earlier in the essay, later becomes something that basically explodes the entire premise of it all. I think what makes me wonder the most though, is the feeling that this concept gave me, actually. It does seem like a pragmatic thing, because it’s like, that’s the last time you’d ever get a chance to do that, but the mere idea just seems like such an odd idea I’m not sure I can really step in that frame of mind. And, I’m gesturing around wringing the turkey’s neck myself because it even makes me uncomfortable.
But in that uncomfortability, I almost wonder if that’s actually just me being conditioned to not experience sexuality with regards to my body the way that this article describes. If someone’s ever asked about my feelings about sex, I’ve basically maintained the same idea, that I’ve not really had any sort of sexual connection to my body prior to transitioning, but it makes me wonder if that’s actually how I feel and that it was an unhealthy and unenjoyable sexual relationship to myself, or if it was just the sort of story I had to tell myself to make it acceptable for me to exist as a trans woman, and as a trans girl, when I was younger and closeted.
I’d never brought up my sexuality to the few therapists and psychologists I’ve seen, because I probably had that same implicit understanding that I needed to seem profoundly disconnected from myself, and unhappy with that lack. These sorts of stories that we tell are reenforced over and over again and eventually they can come to be a lie that becomes the truth, which is also what is described in the Lovelock reading (at least, as I understand it). I identified for a few years while closeted as asexual, even, because that sort of connection, a sexual one, just seemed… alienating.
Nowadays things are different, and I think the relationship I have to my body, despite my discomforts, is healthier. But, reevaluating those formative years for my trans identity, it’s lead me to wonder how many of these discomforts are actually ones that I thought were ones I needed to have, or if they were truly there. Or, does the distinction become blurred after so long, and they’re all just discomforts I have regardless of if they were put upon me or not?
not really sure if this post makes sense to share. but I think the content is interesting perhaps. I have no clue if this qualifies as interesting stuff, nor do I want to write purely to show off interesting stuff, but I don’t want to just post my diary necessarily either.